By Michael W. Freeman - Following a research study with the University of South Florida, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said he’s ready to implement a program to provide body cameras for officers to wear while on duty.
In doing so, “We want to improve accountability and transparency,” the chief said. “We want to save lives, and save thousands of dollars in court courts. We believe it’s going to increase officer professionalism.”
Mina added, “Your demeanor changes when you know you’re being videotaped.”
The concept drew praise from Mayor Buddy Dyer, who said it shows how proactive Orlando’s police department is.
“I’m proud that OPD launched this study before it became an issue nationally, so we are not just reacting,” the mayor said.
But one of the major challenges will be the cost – which Mina said would be $1.6 million.
“It’s a big cost, but we definitely think it’s worth it,” Mina said.
City Commissioner Robert Stuart said he liked the idea of body cameras, but wanted to know if, in an era when technology is constantly being upgraded, the costs could continue to rise as well. Stuart noted that the videos in the body camera would have been stored and preserved.
“This is downloaded from the field when it comes back, correct?” he asked.
Mina acknowledged that it won’t be cheap to store those videos.
“We believe it’s going to cost $459,000 a year just for storage to keep this system,” he said.
Still, the chief added, “We think it’s a great, great system.”
Mina noted that a year ago, “We purchased 50 body-worn cameras and entered into this study with the University of South Florida,” and starting using them on 50 officers.
“Why did we do this? The public’s perception of the use of force, incidents in which officers used force, and citizen complaints about police officers,” he said.
Among the questions they initially confronted, he said, was the potential for complaints from citizens who don’t want to be videotaped, and the length of time needed to keep storing the videos.
“Obviously there are privacy concerns,” Mina said. “We also have an issue with retention times – how long do we keep them?”
There’s also the question of how much time the downloading process keeps an officer on administrative duty, he added.
“I’m told for every hour that the officer records, that’s 30 minutes to download it, and that takes officers off the streets,” he said.
Still, he said officers themselves seem enthusiastic about using the cameras.
“One officer called me and told me, ‘Chief, please don’t take the cameras away after the study is done,’ “ Mina said, adding that now “We want to purchase 450 cameras for four patrol divisions – and toss them out on the street. We want to be able to have a system that allows us to see it from a hard wire system and an officer’s laptop. Any time an officer is taking enforcement action, we will turn the cameras on. We want the cameras to be configured to be worn and transferred easily.”
He also noted that OPD would not be able to edit the videos.
“The cameras do not have the capability for editing or deleting what has been recorded,” Mina said.